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Update, Jan. 15: Someone tore down the new tribute within 48 hours.
Last month a developer painted over a mural honoring Philly LGBTQ icon Gloria Casarez. This week, a queer street artist put up a new one just 50 feet away.
It was classic Philadelphia revenge. On Wednesday morning, Tiff Urquhart bound a 4-by-4-foot wheatpaste of Casarez to a wall half a block from the old 12th Street Gym. The piece depicts the civil rights leader’s face in warm jewel tones — purples, blues and maroons — meant to resemble the former sunset-bathed mural.
The new location, nestled on the cobblestone corner of Camac and St. James streets, is less than 100 steps from the white wall.
Queer Latina activist Casarez lived on the gym’s exterior for six years in the form of an expansive mural before the new owner, Midwood Investment and Development, suddenly whitewashed the artwork the week of Christmas.
Urquhart was staying with family in Harrisburg when she saw photos of the erasure circulate online.
“It’s kind of like a shot to the heart for the LGBTQIA community,” said the 33-year-old. “It just hurt.”
It’s unclear exactly how long the new artwork will last — since Urquhart didn’t get permission from the building’s owner beforehand.
Franklin Inn Club president Roberta Kangilaski didn’t find out until after the fact, and wasn’t sure if she would leave it up. “No quick answer,” she said.
[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFtgieyi4wU” caption=”Video%20by%20Kimberly%20Paynter%2C%20WHYY” /]
The abrupt loss of the original Casarez mural stunned Philly LGBTQ activists and public art supporters in December. Midwood bought the building back in 2018, intending to tear down the property and build new apartments. The company struck a deal with Mural Arts to replace the artwork with an even bigger tribute to queer people and people of color.
After the mural was painted over without warning, Mural Arts and OG artist Michelle Angela Ortiz called off the deal.
Jane Golden, Mural Arts executive director, told Billy Penn she was thrilled to see the new work: “How lovely! It’s a beautiful mural of Gloria.”
Urquhart put other work aside to make it happen. “I wanted to put this up as quickly as possible before the whole demolition process got under way,” said the artist, who moved to Philly from Florida about a year and a half ago. “She just needed something in her memory right away.”
Born in North Philly and raised by a single mom, Casarez worked as executive director of the Philadelphia queer Latin@ org GALAEI and helped found the Philly Dyke March.
She was Philadelphia’s first director of the Office of LGBT Affairs. Casarez pioneered the tradition of raising a rainbow flag at City Hall during pride month, and she shepherded a comprehensive LGBTQ rights bill through City Council in 2013.
Midwood apologized for the surprise coverup, and said they’d still create a tribute on the new building. “We are truly sorry for the pain we’ve caused Gloria’s family and the local LGBTQ community,” spokesperson James Yolles told Billy Penn last week.
Urquhart hopes the new tribute is healing for the community — and vowed to keep Casarez’s image alive no matter how the building owner reacts.
“I hope I can bring some happiness and some joy to people,” she said. “There’s always a possibility of it getting taken down, and if it does, I’ll paint another one and try a different location.”